Following the one year anniversary of PKJN Jon handing over Lowestoft’s “Advanced Juniors” class to myself and JKN Oakley, I thought now would be a suitable time to look back and reflect on what I’ve learnt through the experience of having my own class and all the responsibility that comes with this.
In April of 2016, I was asked to cover a few lessons for the ‘advanced juniors’ class in Lowestoft when PKJN Jon was unable to make it in. After doing this for a couple of weeks, myself and JKN Oakley were approached by JDKJN Martin who asked us if we would be up for taking on the role of instructor for that class following Master Jon's eight-year period of taking that class. Of course, on being asked to do this I was overjoyed and felt very privileged to have even been considered for the role – let alone to have been offered it. We both accepted the offer and following that we continued taking the class as we had done for the past couple of weeks as well as having a few meetings with PKJN Jon regarding class-planning, etc.
After about a month of taking the class I noticed that being an instructor is a lot harder than I first thought. When you think of your instructor, you think of someone who comes in every week, stands at the front of the class and helps you learn whilst also making sure you feel better leaving class than you did when you walked in. You don’t tend to factor in the hours of planning they have done whilst sat at home and all that goes on behind the scenes, and it’s exactly this which is responsible for the things that you DO think about and notice (the things I mentioned above). If an instructor simply turns up and takes the class without and solid plan in mind then the student typically won’t learn and they won’t leave feeling better than they did when they came in, and coming to Kuk Sool will become more of a ritual of coming in, doing your thing and then leaving again. This should not be the case and in fact it is the work that goes on behind the scenes (the stuff that goes unnoticed) which ensures that students remain engaged and progressing forward.
Admittedly for a couple of months this did take some getting used to as the only previous teaching experience I had had is occasionally filling in for an absent instructor and being able to get away with quickly forming a lesson plan on the spot. I soon learnt that this tactic of lesson planning was in fact only effective in the one-off situations and a real solid lesson plan which has been well thought out is crucial to keeping students engaged and looking forward to coming to training every week.
Once I had got this issue resolved and had started planning lessons properly, I noticed a huge difference in how I felt about each class after I had taken it as well as how the students responded, both during the class through putting in effort to show that they’re engaged and after the class when they gave me feedback. Shortly after this however I was faced with my next issue – I was running out of content and ideas. Although there is a lot of content in Kuk Sool, especially for those in my class (DBNs and JKNs), there are only a limited number of actual categories they fall under, namely “handstrikes/kicks”, “forms”, “techniques” and “weapons”. As you can imagine, it is hard to plan a whole lesson on just one of those things and although it is possible I feel that as the instructor it is my job to make the judgement as to whether the class will stay engaged with just one of these things for the entire hour. With the class being mainly under 15s, I feel that they would be bored having a whole lesson on just one thing all the time so although I do try and do this from time to time I mainly try to incorporate at least two or three of the categories into my lesson plans. This does however mean that it only takes two lessons to get through all four of the named categories which again I feel could lead to the lessons becoming repetitive and causing the students to become disengaged.
This is one of the bigger issues in class planning however the solution is simply to be creative. For example, I rarely take a class where the first twenty minutes doesn’t consist of kicking/handstrike drills however I try to do this in a different way every lesson to shake it up a little and make sure students don’t get bored of the same routine every week. One week we might simply do our kicking in our lines, the next week we will do them on pads, the next week we might try doing kicks from our front legs for sparring practice, and so on. Just because we are going through the same content, it doesn’t need to be done in the same way. This variation in practice can be applied to almost every aspect of training, for example with forms we might run through them normally one lesson, the next lesson we might get a bit more technical, the next we might do them on the mirror side, we might make them a race or we might do pyramid forms (i.e. Ki Cho Hyung once, Cho Geup Hyung twice, and so on).
Overall, although instructing does come with a lot more challenges and hurdles than you may imagine, it’s definitely a great and rewarding experience and I love instructing more than any other aspect of Kuk Sool. It is great to come in every week and to help students learning and improving. What’s even better is looking back over longer periods of time and seeing how far people have come in their Kuk Sool journey, knowing that you were instrumental to that progression. Instructing is and always will be a challenge but it’s a challenge worth facing for all the rewarding feedback you get not only from others but from yourself too; if you’ve taken a good class you’ll know and you’ll feel great for it!